In addition to my sales and marketing consulting work, I do a little bit of mentoring. The companies I work with tend to be either start-up companies looking for the best way to go to market or established companies who want to break into new markets.

I often ask the companies to show me samples of their communications and marketing, or to explain how they approach a sales presentation with prospects and existing customers. Most of them – around 90% I would say – start with themselves. Who they are, what they do, their history, that kind of thing.

It happens a lot, but it’s fundamentally wrong. Everything should start with your customer and their market. Whether you’re hoping to build a relationship, or you’re looking to challenge the assumptions and knowledge of your customer, you always start with them. Their market, their issues, their drivers, their objectives, their barriers, their success factors. If you can’t demonstrate that knowledge, you can’t make a connection, you can’t tell if you can help them, you don’t know if there’s a fit, you don’t earn their respect.

Once you demonstrate that you understand your customers’ pains and requirements, then you can establish how you’ve helped other companies with similar problems and how you’re uniquely placed to help them.

The direction of the dynamic with successful companies is from the customer to them, not from them to the customer. That way you’re not selling to them, you’re guiding them to buy.

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